January 20, 2017 3:28 pm
Updated: January 20, 2017 9:06 pm

Alberta to expand Castle area parks, phase out off-highway vehicles

WATCH ABOVE: The Province of Alberta has announced final boundries for a pair of protected areas in southern Alberta. The plan is to protect the Castle area's biological diversity, but as Quinn Campbell reports, the province is also banning off-highway vehicles within the new boundries.

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PINCHER CREEK, Alta. – Alberta is announcing final boundaries for a pair of protected areas in southwestern Alberta and is moving to phase out off-highway vehicles in the region.

READ MORE: Alberta government moves to protect vast Castle wilderness 

Premier Rachel Notley announced Friday the Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the new Castle Provincial Park will preserve 103,000 hectares of mountains and foothills.

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Notley says off-highway vehicles will not be allowed within the new Castle boundary.

“A new protected area in the Castle is a real gift to Albertans,” Katie Morrison, a conservation director with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said.

“The Castle is a major source of water for southern Alberta and is home for grizzly bears, bull trout and rare plants. It’s a great place to connect with nature through quiet recreation.”

READ MORE: Doubts raised about plan to protect Alberta wilderness area 

The area has been heavily used by such vehicles and scientists say they’re damaging the landscape’s ability to support wildlife such as grizzly bears.

The Castle area is home to more than 200 rare or at-risk species on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and near British Columbia and Montana.

The next phase for the 103,000-hectare parks is the development of a management plan for the ecologically and culturally significant area, the province said. A 60-day public consultation will help flesh out the new parks’ features and opportunities. A draft plan has been developed and Albertans are encouraged to provide feedback.

“The Castle is a key part of the Yellowstone to Yukon region,” Stephen Legault, program director with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, said. “It’s one of the linchpins in the whole Y2Y system.

“Today’s announcement will start Alberta towards a new mandate for protecting places that help protect nature, diversify our economy and create jobs that support our province and our environment.”

“Camping, hiking, mountain biking, snow sports… These activities shape and enrich the lives of hundreds of thousands of Albertans and numerous visitors to the province,” David Labistour, CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, said. “They are also mainstays of MEC’s business. We congratulate the Government of Alberta on providing provincial park status to the Castle area.”

With files from Global News

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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